Aspiration Pneumonia in Elderly Patients
Pneumonia is a serious infection of one or both lungs. The most common types of pneumonia are viral pneumonia and bacterial pneumonia caused by the flu virus and Streptococcus bacteria, respectively. However, there are a multitude of other types of pneumonia. A special type of pneumonia called aspiration pneumonia is a lung infection that occurs after food, blood, stomach acid, or vomit is aspirated, or inhaled, into the lungs. Though aspiration pneumonia is not the most common type of pneumonia, aspiration pneumonia is a life-threatening and largely preventable disease. In a 2013 study, it was calculated that 21% of cases involving aspiration pneumonia culminated in death within 30 days. Most cases of aspiration pneumonia in nursing homes and hospitals could have been prevented through appropriate supervision from the staff. If an aspiration pneumonia event results in wrongful death of the patient, a nursing home abuse lawsuit should be considered.
Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia
Aspiration pneumonia is a lung infection due to a foreign material (food, blood, vomit) which is aspirated (inhaled) into the lungs. In aspiration pneumonia, the bacteria and microorganisms within the aspirated material will infect the lungs. Material inhaled into the lungs can also damage lung tissue and cause inflammation. Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia include coughing, sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs), shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, fever, malaise, and confusion. Aspiration pneumonia is confirmed through blood and sputum analyses, swallowing tests, X-ray and CT imaging, and/or a bronchoscopy.
Patients with aspiration pneumonia typically have bouts of coughing or trouble breathing. If the nurses ignore the patient’s difficulty with breathing, they may be ignoring this life-threatening infection.
Treatment of Aspiration Pneumonia
Treatment for aspiration pneumonia involves determining the strain of bacteria causing the infection, administering the appropriate antibiotics, supplying oxygen support, and providing mechanical ventilation if necessary. In severe cases, surgery is performed in order to remove fluid from the lungs or to install a chest tube. If these treatments are not applied soon enough, aspiration pneumonia can be fatal.
Aspiration Pneumonia in Nursing Home Patients
The elderly have a higher probability of acquiring aspiration pneumonia due to underlying conditions commonly found in the geriatric population. These underlying conditions include the following:
- Impaired gag reflex due to stroke or neurological disease (i.e. Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, or Alzheimer’s disease)
- Difficulty swallowing, also known as dysphagia, due to cancerous strictures on the esophagus, mechanical ventilation, or neurological disease
- Impaired ability to cough or expel aspirated material due to age or sedation
- Presence of a feeding tube
- Compromised immune response due to age, disease, or immunosuppressant medications
Preventative steps should be taken in situations where a patient is predisposed to aspiration. The patient’s bed should be kept at a 30˚- 45˚ incline. At-risk patients’ diets should consist of soft foods that are eaten in small increments with frequent swallowing, the chin tucked, and the head turned. Frequent oral care (teeth brushing or mouth swabbing) should be given so as to reduce the presence of bacteria and food in the patient’s saliva. Medication is recommended in some situations in order to reduce stomach acidity, since there is an increased risk of gastric acid entering the lungs.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Regarding Aspiration Pneumonia
Pneumonia and respiratory tract infections are the leading cause for death in nursing home and extended care facilities. Recovery from pneumonia in elderly patients is a long and arduous process. Many incidents of pneumonia are not preventable; however, aspiration pneumonia is an easily recognizable and treatable medical event.
As a consequence, it is vital that caretakers remain alert to an elderly person’s predisposition to aspiration and any symptoms of pneumonia that appear. Unfortunately, many incidents of aspiration pneumonia that involve malpractice and negligence (i.e. failure to monitor a patient after eating, improper placement of feeding tubes, improper monitoring during anesthesia). If your loved one passed away as a result of aspiration pneumonia, you should speak with our elder abuse law firm now to investigate a potential wrongful death claim. Call us now, toll-free, to begin the conversation; 1-844-253-8919.
Ana Montoya and Lona Mody, “Common Infections in Nursing Homes: A Review of Current Issues and Challenges,” Aging Health, December 2011. Volume 7 Issue 6: 889-899.
Elly Dock PhD, Kathryn Watson, and Brian Wu, “Getting a Handle on Aspiration Pneumonia,” healthline.com; http://www.healthline.com/health/aspiration-pneumonia#Overview1. June 28, 2016.
“Pneumonia,” American Lung Association; http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/learn-about-pneumonia.html.
Susan E. Langmore, Kimberly A. Skarupski, Pil S. Park, and Brant E. Fries, “Predictors of Aspiration Pneumonia in Nursing Home Residents,” Dyshagia; http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00455-002-0072-5. December 2002. Volume 17 Issue 4: 298-307.
Swaminathan, Anand MD, “Aspiration Pneumonitis and Pneumonia,” Medscape.com; http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/296198-overview#a2. July 1, 2016.